We know that sleep is vital for humans, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and even birds, but what about insects? Scientists have studied sleep in a variety of creatures for decades, but insects are often overlooked. Fortunately, new investigations are underway to determine whether insects sleep and, if so, how their sleeping habits affect them.
If you observe insects regularly, you’ll notice that they do have regular periods of inactivity. While this does make it seem like insects sleep, further study is necessary to determine if this inactivity equates to sleep as we know it.
To get a better insight into whether insects sleep and to answer the question, do bugs sleep, two research groups observed fruit flies determine what their resting patterns entailed. Perhaps surprisingly, the flies were typically immobile at night and were resistant to stimuli. Known as a ‘higher arousal threshold’, more stimulus was needed to prompt a reaction from the fruit flies.
If the researchers prevented the flies from being immobile during this time period, they would then become less active throughout the next day. When you compare this to human sleeping habits, it certainly seems that the fruit flies were exhibiting similar behavior.
Throughout the years, many studies have been conducted to learn more about ‘sleeping bugs’ and to find out how critical sleep is to insects. In one study, specific varieties of bees appeared to experience a period of immobility but, interestingly, this occurred outside of their hive. Furthermore, they appeared to ‘sleep’ by affixing their jaws onto something and relaxing the rest of their bodies.
As you might expect, some insects exhibited periods of inactivity when their environment meant that food was unavailable. For honeybees, this meant sleeping at night when flowers are closed, while bedbugs seemed to be inactive during the day.
However, not all insects sleep for long periods. In fact, one study into the sleeping habits of fire ants showed that queen ants can sleep approx. 90 times a day, but they only sleep for around six minutes each time.
With studies showing that insects do typically experience a regular period of inactivity that we could term ‘sleep’, scientists set about investigating whether bugs are also affected by sleep deprivation.
In humans, sleep deprivation can have a number of effects, including memory loss, reduced concentration span, reduced problem-solving skills, and weakened immunity. For insects in their natural habitat, such severe consequences of sleep deprivation could have a drastic impact on their mortality.
To determine whether bees are affected by sleep deprivation, researchers fitted the bees with metal devices that operated as an alarm clock for their entire bodies. When their sleep was limited by the scientists, they did exhibit signs of sleep deprivation.
While we can’t yet conclude that all insects sleep, there is evidence to suggest that most bugs do require regular periods of rest. What’s more – it could be just as important to their longevity and health as it is to humans.